7 Best Kayak GPS Units: Combos, Handheld & More Reviewed

Kayak fishing is a great way to cast your lines in deeper water, but it can be easy to lose your way. Quality kayak GPS devices take all the worry out of kayaking to unknown places, even when going solo. If you’re shopping for the best GPS for kayak fishing, read through this article for everything you need to know.

Preview

Model

Type

Display Size

Check Price

Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. 100K with...

Garmin GPSMAP 64st

Handheld

1.43 x 2.15 inches

Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish...

Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5

Portable, mountable

5 inches

Garmin 010-01735-10 In Reach Explorer+,...

Garmin inReach Explorer+

Handheld

1.4” x 1.9” inches

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS and...

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

Handheld

1.43 x 2.15 inches

Garmin Fenix 3 HR, Gray

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

Watch

2 x 2 inches

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Garmin Foretrex 401

Watch

1.6 inches

Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS...

Garmin eTrex 10

Handheld

2.2 inches


Benefits of Using GPS When Kayak Fishing

GPS is a utility operated by the US government that uses the power of 24 satellites to help users navigate. Devices ping off these satellites to locate themselves. This can be a huge help to anglers who paddle their kayaks longer distances or those who just want to record their favorite fishing spots. It’s also easy to share locations and trails with others with a kayak GPS.

The best GPS for kayak fishing will also double as a safety tool. Some are built with 2-way messaging services built-in or even emergency contact services in case of an accident. It can be a huge relief to know where you are and allow others to make sure your trip is going alright from a distance. In many cases, GPS devices are all it takes to open up new places to anglers.


Buying Considerations for Kayak GPS Devices

GPS Navigator Type

There isn’t usually tons of extra room on a kayak, but luckily most devices can be mounted on a kayak GPS holder, worn like a watch, or held in hand. A GPS needs to be portable while still being sizable enough to display sought-after information. For kayakers, a watch-style GPS can help keep hands free for paddling. Larger models often have more functions, like those that double as a kayak fish finder.

Satellites, Accuracy & Coverage

The signal for a high sensitivity receiver can come from GPS, or it can come from other systems like GLONASS. The most important thing is to make sure that the device is pinging off enough satellites to triangulate quickly, accurately, and regularly. 12 of the 24 GPS satellites is the bare minimum, but if you can find a device that runs off both GPS and GLONASS, then you’ll likely be able to keep a signal in a wider variety of places. Canyons and high altitudes are often covered better by GLONASS, for example.

Interface

Some larger devices display information in color on high-resolution screens. That can be great to have if the map itself is detailed with lots of topographical information or depth readings, but smaller watch-style GPS devices that are low-res and only work off of a base map can get the job done with way more portability.

Both kinds of GPS devices should be able to be read in sunlight and display their information in large enough text to be read without having to spend too long looking away from your target.

Data Storage & Sharing

Anglers who go out in pairs or like to swap tales with friends and family will be happy to hear that most kayak GPS devices enable the user to share trails, waypoints, geocaches, and locations with just about anybody that has an internet connection.

If anglers are using the same kind of GPS, they can often send information to one another wirelessly while they're still out on the water. Some devices can store a few gigs of data while others store less, but most can be given additional memory with a miniSD or SD card.

Water Resistance/Temperature Capabilities

It should make plenty of sense that all fishing electronics should be waterproof. Some GPS devices are rated to be water-resistant, but the best GPS for kayaking will be completely waterproof. Watches are often the most waterproof GPS devices.

Degrees of waterproofing are measured by an international standard called Ingress Protection, or IP, ratings. These devices should also be able to handle a wide range of temperatures. Some can be used for ice fishing and in warmer water, while others won’t work or won’t work as well in freezing temperatures.

Mapping System/Functionality

Most GPS devices have preloaded maps right out of the box. These can be supplemented with software from the internet or with SD cards. The better the base map, the more successful charting will be.

Watches usually have less detailed base maps, while kayak GPS fish finders have more topographical information. It can be dangerous to have a GPS device drop out on you in the middle of nowhere. Make sure your maps have 100% coverage over the area where you’ll be going before you head out.

Battery Type & Life

Kayak GPS devices generally run off either rechargeable batteries or disposable ones, but some of them can use either one. Disposable batteries are a great option to have as a back-up or for situations where recharging won't be possible. Batteries can last anywhere from several hours to a few days. Low-battery modes on GPS devices allow for longer battery life but more limited functionality.

Safety Features

The more information a GPS can record, the safer the user will be. Alarms for things like low battery, collisions, arrival, and weather conditions will help avoid stressful situations before they are allowed to reach a high-risk level.

A 12-channel receiver will ensure this information can both be registered and be transmitted to emergency services or friends and family who want to keep an eye on an angler. Navigational tools like a compass help the user stay on the right track, and an altimeter helps measure elevation.

Price & Warranty

Some of these kayak GPS devices are very sophisticated pieces of electronic equipment, and that shows in the price sometimes. Others are more straightforward and, therefore, more affordable. All of the GPS devices in this guide come with a one-year limited warranty that protects against defects in the quality of the product. It's always important to register the GPS device's warranty as soon as you purchase it.


7 Best Kayaking GPS Devices Reviewed

1. Garmin GPSMAP 64st

Our Top Pick!

Type

Handheld

Display Size

1.43 x 2.15 inches

Preloaded Maps

Full US Map

Battery Life

16 hours

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

Everything you need to find your way and save favorite spots is built into this Garmin. It has a strong encased quad helix antenna that even picks up GLONASS signals in addition to GPS to ensure total coverage even at higher altitudes.

It has just about as high a waterproof rating as you could ask for in an electronic device. There’s a shaded world map included and a detailed 100k US map that includes contours, lakes & rivers, seasonal streams, and wetlands, as well as elevation profiles, campground locations, and parks at the national, state, and local level.

The included US map won’t route, but the device has a port for microSD and SD cards by which routable maps can be downloaded for turn-by-turn directions. Maps of bodies of water can also be downloaded to the GPSMAP 64st this way.

What makes this the best GPS for kayaking is the ease of its use. Sharing maps to other Garmin devices can be done without plugging up to a computer, the compass stays accurate even when the GPS isn’t level, and it connects to other devices like cameras and heart rate monitors quickly.

An included yearlong subscription to Garmin’s proprietary BirdsEye Satellite Imagery program allows users to download high-res imagery with the use of the also-included BaseCamp planning program. This device also works with either a rechargeable battery or two AA batteries to make sure you’ll always have juice. It pairs with a smartphone not only to share information but also to receive text, call, and email notifications without having to pull the cell phone out of dry storage on the yak.

Pros
  • Tons of included software
  • 2 battery power options
  • Readable in sunlight
  • Works with cell phones
  • Easy to share data
Cons
  • Smaller screen size
  • Routing requires additional software

2. Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5

Best Kayak Fish Finder GPS Combo

Type

Portable, mountable

Display Size

5 inches

Preloaded Maps

10,000+

Battery Life

N/A

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

Consolidating your fishing electronics is easy with this device from Humminbird. The size of the unit isn't too bulky, but it still has enough screen space to make use of two different display modes. Down-view and side-view are both included on this model, allowing you to get a good look at what’s going on under the surface.

Multi-frequency CHIRP sonar shoots out in two beams to cover more space and give greater detail on the display, affording a target separation of 2.5 inches for a clearer distinction between fish and other features. Temperature detection is also built into this model.

The only serious drawback to this Humminbird is the power source. It doesn’t run on rechargeable or regular batteries. It will need a more robust power source. It mounts through the transom on a boat, but to use it as a kayak GPS fish finder, something like a fish finder cell block will be necessary.

The good news is that power sources from the majority of manufacturers are designed to attach to the fish finder and make one transportable piece. Attachments guides on the yak allow for such devices to easily mount and slide anywhere on the side of the kayak that you need it.

Updating the software on this device is easy, and downloading new maps via SD card is a cinch as well. The detail of the display is finer than you’ll find on a handheld model. Despite its requirement for a dedicated power source, the Humminbird Helix 5 is widely regarded as the best fish finder GPS for kayak anglers because it has everything they need packed right in.

Pros
  • Detailed display
  • Dual-beam CHIRP sonar
  • Temperature detection built-in
  • Long transducer cable
  • Easy to update
Cons
  • Needs a separate power source

3. Garmin inReach Explorer+

Best Handheld GPS for Kayak Fishing

Type

Handheld

Display Size

1.4” x 1.9” inches

Preloaded Maps

North America TOPO map

Battery Life

Up to 100 hours

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

Not only is the inReach Explorer+ one of the most portable Garmin kayak GPS units and comfortable in hand, but it’s also an ideal solution for personal safety for anglers and yakkers who like to hit the backcountry solo.

Two-way messaging powered by the IRIDIUM Satellite System allows sustained communication even in the remotest areas, although it does require a separate subscription. Communication is also possible with email addresses, and friends and family can also follow along on a trek via GPS.

A 24/7 monitoring center is reachable with this device in case of an emergency. Garmin’s EarthMate app allows users to pair this device with a cell phone to add to the included TOPO maps and download NOAA charts and aerial charts.

The GPS in this device is able to route right out of the box. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery doesn’t take long to fill up and lasts a long time, depending on how you use the device. There's not as much storage on this kayak GPS as there is on some others, but 2GB on top of the TOPO maps included with this device should be plenty to store the additional data and graphs you might need for a fishing trip. There is also an available upgrade that will allow the user to get weather reports and updates.

Pros
  • SOS service available
  • Super portable
  • Pairs with a cell phone
  • Communicate by text or email
  • Optional weather reports
Cons
  • Less memory
  • Iridium by subscription only

4. Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

Best Marine Handheld GPS

Type

Handheld

Display Size

1.43 x 2.15 inches

Preloaded Maps

North America & Bahamas

Battery Life

Up to 35 hours

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

While the inReach Explorer+ is the best handheld GPS for kayak fishing, the GPSMAP 78sc from Garmin is the best GPS for sea kayaking because it's water-resistant, even in the battery compartment. They've designed it to float so if it goes over the side of your yak, you can swing back around to scoop it up.

It keeps the satellite signal very reliably thanks to the WAAS-enabled GPS receiver. The antenna is within the rounded top of the device, solving the problem of antennas that stick out, jab, or catch on pockets and fishing line. Sharing maps and waypoints with similar devices is about as easy as hitting the ‘share’ button.

In terms of battery life, this unit will last up to 35 hours in normal mode. If you switch to power-saving mode, your location will update less frequently, but the battery will last up to 200 hours, which is ideal for longer overnight trips where charging the battery overnight may not be an option.

It will require an update to Garmin's City Navigator software to get turn by turn directions out of this GPS device, and setting waypoints can be overly cumbersome, but for kayaking and making sure you can find your way back to shore, the GPSMAP 78sc does the job.

Pros
  • Low-battery mode
  • Floats in the water
  • Rounded antenna
  • Sharing maps is fast & easy
  • Monitors altitude & heading
Cons
  • Turn-by-turn directions aren’t stock
  • Subpar waypoint interface

5. Garmin Fenix 3 HR

Best GPS Watch for Kayaking

Type

Watch

Display Size

2 x 2 inches

Preloaded Maps

1 basic map

Battery Life

Up to 16 hours

Water Rating

10 ATM

Warranty

1-year limited

Keep your hands free to paddle with this wearable GPS. The antenna is built-in and omnidirectional. The display works well in the sunlight, and the screen seems to be very durable. The organization of the information on the screen is balanced so as not to be overwhelming or cluttered. This watch is water-rated up to 100 meters, which means even in the event of a turnover, your electronics will be safe.

A battery-saver mode allows the device to stay on for up to 40 hours in a more restricted performance mode, and there's also a standard smartwatch mode where the GPS is turned off that will allow the watch to retain power for up to two weeks. Toggling the GPS on only when you need it will ensure the battery lasts a long time.

Additional features like a heart rate monitor and an anaerobic metric allow the wearer to keep an eye on their pulse and exercise productivity. This is the best Garmin watch for kayaking, but there are also running and swimming modes to monitor your exercise in other pursuits.

One really handy piece of software on this watch allows you to head back to your starting point by the exact way you came. If you’re in new territory and want detailed map info, you can try to download it beforehand, but there is only about 20MB of storage space on this watch.

Measuring altitude, barometric pressure, and heading is easy with the compass and included meters. You can also stay connected to an email or text messaging inbox if you connect this watch with a smartphone. While that will, of course, depend on your cell signal, it is helpful not to have to take the non-waterproof cell out of dry storage out on the water.

Pros
  • Measures heart rate
  • Waterproof up to 100 meters
  • Works as a regular watch
  • Connects to wifi
  • Stay hands-free to paddle
Cons
  • Less possible map detail
  • Little memory available

6. Garmin Foretrex 401

Best GPS for Hiking and Kayaking

Type

Watch

Display Size

1.6 inches

Preloaded Maps

None

Battery Life

17 hours

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

Another wearable Garmin kayak GPS that’s completely waterproof is the Foretrex 401, which is also rated to be completely waterproof. This is a no-fuss device that runs on 2 AAA batteries for up to 17 hours. While the screen is a little rudimentary, it has the ability to record a trail and guide the wearer back along the same way on the return journey.

This watch is generally sold at a lower price point than other devices, so for folks who only need basic guidance, this is a great solution. You can also store routes on this watch, which makes returning to favorite hiking and kayaking spots a breeze.

This watch connects to a computer by USB to transfer or download information. You can also share routes wirelessly with other Foretrex 401 watches. If you’re into fitness, this watch will record your stats for review and comparison later. There are certainly larger GPS-fish finder combos that can do way more than this fairly simple device.

Still, for its ease of use and unbelievably low-maintenance, this durable little timepiece is the perfect GPS for kayak fishing with a minimum of equipment. There's no need for a kayak GPS holder, and it certainly won’t weigh you down, making it the best GPS for kayaking and hiking, too.

Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Monitors exercise
  • Records & stores trails
  • Low maintenance
  • Waterproof
Cons
  • No preloaded maps

7. Garmin eTrex 10

Best Rated for the Money

Type

Handheld

Display Size

2.2 inches

Preloaded Maps

Worldwide basemap

Battery Life

25 hours

Water Rating

IPX7

Warranty

1-year limited

Don’t let the simplicity of this kayak GPS’ design fool you. It still does lots of what larger and bulkier devices do at a much more affordable rate and manages to last over a full day on 2 AA batteries. It doesn’t have a color screen, but it has a sensitive enough GPS to keep your position up-to-date on the display.

It’s also an absolute brick, built to withstand any kind of weather, dirt, grime, and - most importantly - water. The eTrex 10 also supports GeoCaching and rarely, if ever, loses its signal thanks to the WAAS-enabled receiver. 

For a handheld GPS for kayak fishing, this device is also surprisingly fast. It catches the signal and locates your position quickly after powering it on. It can also offer point-to-point navigation, area calculation, a fishing and hunting calendar, and information on the sun and moon cycle.

You can save up to 100 tracks on this watch, which should be plenty for almost anyone besides the most active globetrotting kayakers. Connect this device via USB to offload and download new data and share it with friends and family. The only way this device wouldn’t be suitable for a kayaking trip is if the low-res monochrome screen is not advanced enough, but if that doesn't bother you, then the eTrex 10 is great.

Pros
  • Save 100 paths
  • Waterproof
  • Durable
  • Catches signal quickly
  • Navigation & calendar included
Cons
  • Monochrome screen
  • Low-resolution

How to Use Your GPS for Kayak Fishing

  • Turning on GPS Device
    This is frequently a button on the face of the device. Look for a power button on the sides if it isn’t on the front.
  • How to Load Maps
    Maps can be found from a variety of sources. Hook up your GPS device to a computer or plug in its SD card and load maps onto it that way.
  • Checking the Signal
    Like cell phones, most kayak GPS devices have a signal display on the screen. Make sure to check the signal when there are significant changes in elevation. Ideally, there will be a low-signal alarm or indicator somewhere on the device.
  • Mark Launch Site
    Before you start out, use the waypoint or point-to-point navigation feature to mark your starting point. It usually only takes a few clicks on a kayak GPS. Make sure the point is accurate before you mark it.
  • The Breadcrumb Feature
    Many kayak GPS devices have a program that records the trail taken so the angler can retrace steps back to their starting point. Set your launch site and check to make sure the device is recording as you travel.
  • Label Waypoints
    Labeling a specific spot is normally similar to marking a start point. Many fish finders allow different symbols to be used for, say, a great fishing spot and a dangerous piece of structure.
  • Mark Possible Fishing Sites
    It’s wise to paddle around and scan for places with lots of possible targets. Returning to these sites on the way back to the starting point can increase chances of success as different species get more active at different times.
  • Storing Information
    Setting up a hard drive or using the SD card from the device can be a convenient way to save information. Cloud-based storage helps ensure information won’t be lost if hardware is compromised.

GPS Apps for Kayaking

One of the best GPS apps for kayaking is Paddle Logger. It makes it easy to record trips and sort them into folders. The maps have plenty of detail to find one's way, and it also works on smartwatches. Measure distances and fitness indicators like heart rate if you have the right hardware.

For android devices, FishBrain is a great kayak GPS app that monitors weather and records journeys. It has enough information to help anglers find specific fish targets and discover new fishing spots. It also records personal statistics to help anglers get better at the sport.

While it can be easier to use a mobile phone as a kayak GPS device, they typically have reduced signal in the great outdoors and are more at risk from water damage than dedicated kayak GPS devices.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of maintenance is needed and how often must it be done?

Keep your fishing electronics clean by wiping them down with fresh water after each use. This can be done with a damp cloth. Make sure to dry it thoroughly before storage. If you can, find a screen protector to cover the device before it's stored away.

How accurate are handheld GPS units?

It can vary with the particular device, but most handheld GPS units are just as accurate as larger models. They are sometimes even faster at picking up a signal. Make sure to read up on the antenna to see what kind of accuracy you can expect from a device.

Where should I mount my kayak GPS?

Many anglers have no problem drilling holes in their kayak, but it’s much easier to buy a kayak GPS holder that mounts quickly to a gear track and can be adjusted on board. These can be tilted to see while fishing on a stand up model and keep the GPS device close at hand without damaging the yak.

Can I read a GPS tracker screen in the dark?

Almost all kayak GPS devices have brightness adjustments in their settings. They should be easier to read in the dark, but make sure you have plenty of light coming off your kayak as well. This can help guide your way and notify others of your position.

How far can you kayak in an hour?

Depending on your experience level, you paddle somewhere between 1 and 3 miles per hour. Many kayak GPS devices record speed and trails, so if you want to improve your paddling speed, these devices can really help.

What’s the difference between a GPS and a fish finder?

Kayak GPS fish finders combine two of the most useful types of fishing electronics. Fish finders help anglers see what’s happening underneath the surface. Not all fish finders have GPS, and not all GPS has a fish finder, but a device with both will change the way you fish completely.

What are the top kayak GPS brands?

The most well-known brands are Humminbird, Lowrance, and Garmin, with Garmin being far and away the industry leader. All three make quality products and have developed their own software to increase the usability of their devices.

Where can I buy these kayak GPS devices for the best price?

For the most reliably stocked and fairly priced kayak GPS device, Amazon is the place to go. Many stores on Amazon are run by the manufacturers themselves, so you can be sure their technical specs and warranty information is correct and up to date.


Conclusion

To get the most out of a kayak GPS, the device should be easy to read, portable, and have a fish finder included. The Garmin GPSMAP 64st covers all these bases with the accuracy of GPS and GLONASS navigation, which is what makes it the best GPS for kayaking.